Is Flexible Working Bad or Good for the Planet, People and Productivity?

There’s something of a debate currently around working from home vs returning to “normal” ways of working, partly sparked by a recent BBC report https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57339105 predicting a return to a five day week in the office.  In particular, can either the office or the home be held up as the ideal place to work from the perspective of the environment, wellbeing and productivity?  This article will try to take a balanced look at some of the issues and make some suggestions about how to approach the issue.

Let’s start with some context.  Pre-pandemic there were lots of organisations allowing people to work flexibly.  Some of which was allowing staff some days working away from the office, much of it was having about less rigid working hours and then there were some rare conversations about the possibility of measuring performance based on outcomes or added value rather than hours worked. 

Equally there were more traditional organisations that viewed attendance at a particular location between fixed hours as mandatory unless otherwise expressly authorised.  We can term these positions as being “liberal” and “conservative” workplace attitudes with applying any political connotations.

The overall trend, however, was increasingly liberal.  A new generation entering the workforce changed the demographic,  mobile devices proliferated, connectivity improved and flexible working technology generally became more widely adopted.  The pace of change was still relatively was slow until the pandemic struck and suddenly (almost) everyone was a remote worker.  Laptops were in short supply, Zoom became the most used verb in the business lexicon and people actually started using Teams in something like the way it was designed to work.

As vaccination passes the 50% mark for second “jabs” in the UK thoughts are increasingly turning to whether we continue as we are, return to a daily conservative commute or embrace new ways of working.  So let’s take a look at this using the classic Px3 lines of analysis: Planet, People and Productivity.

Planet

The environmental impacts of commuting are well documented, not just in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but also air quality and pollution.  Pre-pandemic nearly 70% of UK commuting was by car according to Dept of Transport statistics (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/945829/tsgb-2020.pdf), with an average round trip of an hour.  That’s a huge environmental burden, even with the slow rise in take up of electric vehicles.

On the counter-argument, only 27% of those commuting into London did so by car, demonstrating that if the costs are prohibitive and infrastructure supportive, behaviour will change.  There is also unease about the environmental impacts of large numbers working from home.  Large office spaces are designed and managed to be extremely energy efficient, whereas our individual homes are typically less so.

These objections don’t really stand up to scrutiny, however.  The prospect of significantly reducing the more than 120 billion vehicle miles used each year for commuting and travel for work with public transport is at best unlikely.  The process of replacing all those internal combustion engines with electric (or hydrogen) ones is also too slow to meet our objectives.

As to minimising the emissions from our properties, we already need to address the heating and insulation issues.  We will not reduce overall emissions if we heat our properties, drive to work (leaving them to cool down), consume energy at work, drive home and then re-heat back to a comfortable level.  These are not “either / or” discussions – we need sustainable solutions for the home and workplace.

People

There is also a visible divide with regards to how people feel about a the return to the workplace.  For some this is an age and hierarchy issue – an established generation of leaders and managers inflicting rigid and out-dated working practices on the young.

It’s an emotional topic too, with many stating that the “genie is out of the bottle” and that having had a taste of freedom they would actually rather resign than go back to a standard 9-5 on-premises working day https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-01/return-to-office-employees-are-quitting-instead-of-giving-up-work-from-home .

On the plus side for flexible working most people surveyed have felt that flexible working was a positive change for them, saving time, money and reducing their carbon footprint.  Crucially staff working flexibly feel more in control of their lives – better able to balance time spent on exercise, with family, pets and even household tasks that otherwise had to be delayed or missed entirely.

Flexible working also offers the prospect of greater “levelling up” for regions and individuals disadvantaged by a concentration of wealth and opportunity for those willing and able to work in city centres in general and London and the South East specifically.

On the negative side there seems to be no real end to the working day.  All too often time saved from the commute is being diverted back into the working longer hours rather than improving work-life balance. Stress from work no longer has the logical “off switch” of heading out of the office and leaving work behind. As usual technology is stepping in to offer some solutions to turn off the work communication https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/apple-soon-mute-late-night-24272717) but this is simply a filter, not a solution.

The opinion on how much time should be spent in the office makes the divide resurface as well, with 68% of senior execs expressing their wish for staff being present at least 3 days per week to maintain company culture.

Overall it is likely that the divide will continue, but perhaps in different forms.  It may well be that those with skills which are in demand in the emerging new economy will best be able to dictate flexible working packages. It’s also true that new challenger businesses will typically have less of a focus on HQ real estate and fixed working hours.

Productivity

Perhaps the most debated item is whether office working is better for productivity.  Proponents highlight improved teamwork, ad-hoc meetings, chance encounters and “water cooler” moments as significant contributors to innovation and creativity.

Opponents cite the time and cost wasted on travelling, the cost of centralised premises and infrastructure plus the impact on work-life balance when more than ten hours each day is spend working and commuting.

Of course for some the journey to work is also a time to reflect and catch up in a way that going to a desk after breakfast rarely achieves.  The reality of returning to peak-time cramped commuting conditions, gridlocked roads and the frustrations of cancellations and delays make this an unlikely idyl for most.

From a pure productivity perspective, flexible working has potential benefits through more engaged and motivated employees, potentially generating 43% more revenue and delivering 20% more performance than disengaged colleagues – https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/flexible-working-business-case_tcm18-52768.pdf

The majority of staff in surveys do report being at least as productive away from the office, with about a third reporting increases in effectiveness https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2015/10/20/30-uk-office-workers-are-more-productive-when-work.   

Flatlining productivity is a major issue that has affected the UK since the global financial crisis of 2008, neatly summarised by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at Bank of England and Chair of the Industrial Strategy Council in his foreword to “Can Good Work Solve the Productivity Puzzle –  https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/can-good-work-solve-the-productivity-puzzle/ – “working better should be our watchword, for therein lies the key to understanding and solving the UK’s productivity crisis”. 

Conclusion

It’s easy to say that the future of work is “hybrid” but that masks the complexity of what we need to consider.  There are good reasons to travel for work and to meet in person, but it’s also a fact that we need to simultaneously reduce our impact on the planet, improve staff engagement and well-being and increase overall productivity.  We will not achieve any of these things by returning to the conservative “status quo” of pre-pandemic 2019.

Hybrid working is likely to  combine HQs’, hub offices, flexible working hours, home working and (hopefully) a more nuanced approach to setting objectives and measuring productivity.  It’s crucial, however, that the organisation has real and up to date information on which to base planning and management activities.  This ranges from user experience, well-being and engagement data for workers to environmental impact assessments on premises, supply chain, IT and travel.

Px3’s recent analysis of ICT and staff travel has identified that some private, public and not-for-profit organisations are actively taking up the challenge.  By using technology to reduce energy consumption, extend device life and enable users to work flexibly and travel less the emissions savings can be considerable (typically up to 70%) and are helping organisations on the journey towards Net Zero.

As one of our customers recently fed back “We presented the Px3 findings at our last climate emergency meeting. It was the first time IT had such detailed information about our carbon footprint and a clear roadmap for the future.”

We need to celebrate this and build on these strategies and science-based metrics to properly identify where we are and where we can get to in order to meet our sustainability goals, our responsibility to the workforce and take advantage of the new opportunities that will arise.

(Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels)

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

An icon for our times? Why Professor Pat Pending is Px3’s All-Time Cartoon hero.

Taking a lighter note, we consider the remarkable talents of our favourite cartoon hero, Professor Pat Pending from Wacky Races – a true icon of what science and scientists can do for us in limiting the effects of climate change.

The three “P”s in Px3 officially stand for Planet, People and Productivity.  But is there something  else they might represent?  Perhaps there is one truly appropriate alternative – Px3’s very own hero – Professor Pat Pending.   For younger readers I should explain that Prof Pending was a racing-driver scientist who drove his Convert-a-Car in the 1960s comedy cartoon series “Wacky Races”, inspired by the 1965 comedy film The Great Race.

Pat Pending used his scientific prowess to create a boat shaped vehicle which could transform into a multitude of shapes and functions.  The more sensible of these were a vehicles such as a motorbike, tandem, hot air balloon and a jet car but also included were a flying carpet on wheels, a forklift, an arrow and a bowling ball.

Like many from the genre the cartoon now fails pretty much every diversity test, not least in having an all-white cast (with possible the exception of “Little Gruesome” who for some reason was purple) and just a single female character who was naturally obsessed with applying her make-up while driving. 

So why is Professor Pat Pending such a hero to us? 

http://www.freepik.com">Designed by brgfx / FreepikWell our 3 x ‘P’s has 3 ‘A’s we very much admire….

Appliance (of Science) – Firstly his achievements are an excellent example of applying science to overcome practical (if comic) problems.  As set out in his recent book https://time.com/5930098/bill-gates-climate-change/ Bill Gates stresses the need for investment in scientific innovation to help tackle climate change. While we need to approach scientific interventions to tackle climate change with care (see here for a cautionary view https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/06/it-is-the-question-of-the-century-will-tech-solve-the-climate-crisis-or-make-it-worse) there is undoubtedly a requirement and role for practical, innovative climate science in our near future.

Altruism – Secondly his amazing gadgets and inventions were often used not just to boost his own speed but also to help other drivers who had fallen victim to the machinations of series villain, Dick Dastardly.  If there’s one thing the covid-19 pandemic should be teaching us it’s that the issues we face are global and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe.  Here’s a retrospective on that topic from Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Frank Bainimarama: https://cop23.com.fj/we-must-do-everything-in-our-power-to-meet-the-challenge-posed-by-climate-change-cop-presidents-speech-for-20th-conference-of-commonwealth-education-ministers/

Attitude – Finally we admire his attitude and optimism.  There is no problem his ingenuity and inventiveness can’t overcome and no tricky situation he will shy away from.  Whether it’s rescuing Penelope Pitstop on his tandem or cueing boulders back through the caverns of Carlsbad, he’s up for the challenge.  In the coming years (and starting right now) we need to cultivate positive, targeted action plans to deliver on the promises and commitments already made but not delivered.  Attitude is a critical part of this, as discussed in another article: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/internal-attitudes-climate-change-matter.

In conclusion we’re certain the Professor would be a huge supporter of transparent reporting against science-based targets (https://www.wri.org/initiatives/science-based-targets) as a way to measure and accelerate our progress towards the winning line of the UN and IPCC goals.  And while we may not have quite his array of gadgets and gizmos, Px3 is proud to bring our own touch of science to the sustainability proceedings. 

For combining humour and technology for the good of others, we salute you Professor!

(For the record, Professor Pat Pending came first in three Wacky Races episodes; the ‘Mish-Mash Missouri Bash’, ‘Eeny, Miny Missouri Go!’ and, controversially given the topic, ‘Oils Well That Ends Well’!)

(Desert image designed by brgfx / Freepik)

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Px3 Analysis Leaps Past the ½ Million Device Mark

Recent projects for central government, manufacturing and not-for profit clients have seen Px3’s tally of device emissions analysed increase dramatically. With sustainability once again firmly at the top of the news agenda, we take a moment to recognise passing a significant milestone on our sustainability journey.

With the final reports issued on our three most recent projects Px3 has now completed sustainability analysis and reporting on an end user computing estate totalling more than 620,000 devices.

Uptake in sustainability analysis has been particularly strong in the last few months and 2021 looks like being the year that sustainability makes it to the top of the business agenda, at least in those parts of the world where the pandemic is receding.

Not surprising considering that our analysis has identified over 3,500 metric tonnes of GHG emissions just from these EUC devices.  Once you add in commuting and business travel (as people return to workplaces and face to face meetings), on-premises datacentres and the issues around device disposal and e-waste, the environmental impacts are clear and the need for action urgent.

Our approach of bringing science-based measurement to drive sustainable decision making is crucial.  We need action from organisations at board-level to drive change – and board-level decisions demand independent analysis and verifiable data.

The increasing scale and scope of projects has also required significant upgrades to our modelling tools and reporting, with customers responding that the new dashboards and resulting analysis is “eye-opening”.  

This year we’ve also updated our demo capabilities to allow customers to see the sort of reports they can expect.  We’re also working on a cloud-version of our models which will give customers unlimited on-line access to all their granular data including filters, reports and sustainability metrics.

Want to know more? Just contact us for a demonstration and introductory workshop.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

The Great Sustainability Bake-Off: CSR vs ESG vs SDG

Organisations are increasingly seeking to position themselves as ethical, green and sustainable.  But what standards are being used and what do they actually mean in terms of action on climate change and pollution?  In this post we review the history and implications of three ways in which you can tell the world you are a truly sustainable business.

The history of business ethics can be traced back to the earliest notions of “fair exchange” through the philanthropists of the 19th century and public pressure in the 1970s to modern corporate mission statements and annual reports.

Indeed perceived ethics underlies one of the key metrics that determines the success or failure of any organisation, trust.   Whether actively measured by NPS (Net Promotor Score), by employee engagement survey or investor sentiment, trust is now often declared to be as important as cash reserves in organisational “capital”.

While organisations have been proclaiming their ethical standing for the last 50 years, over the last 10 years we’ve increasingly seen sustainability added into the statements, with the emphasis ratcheting up rapidly this decade.

With this ramping up of the “green agenda” we’ve also seen concerns over greenwashing – a term first used in 1985 to describe companies seeking to manipulate our behaviour or sentiment through unsupported ecological statements.

There are clearly overlaps, as illustrated below.

So let’s look at a brief summary of CSR, SDG and ESG, acronyms that help to define our era:

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

CSR emerged during the industrial revolution but became more established as a concept through corporate philanthropy after the second world war.   The adoption was accelerated in the 60s and 70s  as reaction to the anti-apartheid and civil rights movements which demonstrated how “people power” could dramatically affect businesses.  To take advantage of, or defend against, this new market force CSRs sought to define and establish a social contract between business and society.

As the global and digital economy emerged from the 1990s onward, awareness of supply chains and international labour practices became the focus and CSR focussed on a combination of profit, social good and anti-slavery / human rights commitments.

From 2010 sustainability started to appear as a common CSR commitment and from 2012 this was frequently linked to one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Ultimately the issue with CSR is that there is no simple or standard way to evaluate performance and delivery against commitments.  Clearly there is accountability against promises and figures are routinely presented in annual reports, but without agreed standard of frameworks or metrics these can be interpreted and presented to flatter actual progress.

SDG (Sustainable Development Goals)

The conclusions of the paper “The Future We Want” were adopted at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.  The paper proposed SDGs which would build on the Millennium Development Goals from 2000 which had sought to establish a global effort to tackle poverty and hunger.

The resulting “2030 Agenda” with its 17 SDGs was adopted in 2015, the same year as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  The SDGs are interconnected goals to deal with the threat of climate change, better manage natural resources, achieve gender equality, seek better health outcomes, eradicate poverty, foster peace, create more inclusive societies, reduce inequalities and help economies prosper.

The SDGs are significant in that affirm an international commitment to build a more sustainable, safer, more prosperous planet for all humanity and one in which no one is left behind.

Importantly in 2017 the UN also agreed the “global indicator framework” for performance against the goals.  Regularly “refined” and updated since (most recently in March 2021) the framework includes 247 indicators of which 231 are unique (12 are repeated in two or more categories).

This allows the creation of an annual scorecard, league table and trending graphs rating countries from 0- 100 in terms of their performance against the goals. (https://s3.amazonaws.com/sustainabledevelopment.report/2020/2020_sustainable_development_report.pdf ).

For organisations there are now many initiatives and toolsets to align organisational performance reporting against the SDG performance indicators, typically through consultancy, architectures, “blueprints”, data frameworks and audit engagements.

ESG (Environmental Social and Corporate Governance)

ESG effectively developed from the same roots as CSR, as a reaction to increased interest among investors in particular, but also customers and stakeholders in measuring the impacts of an organisation on the planet and society. 

Closely linked with the increased interest in ethical investments, it provides a framework for evaluating and comparing performance across three key areas: Environment (Sustainability), Social Impacts (Employees, Customers, Politics and Community / Added-Social Value) and Corporate Governance (Board, Audit and Compensation).

In 2005 the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan invited some of the world’s largest institutional investors to develop principles for responsible investment.  As a result in 2006 the UN launched a set of six investment principles encouraging the incorporation of ESG issues and reporting into investment practice, attracting support from many of the major financial institutions.

Unlike other commitments and reports ESG is linked to the fiduciary duties (i.e. the legal and ethical requirement of directors to act in the best interest of clients and shareholders) so it has the real potential of driving board-level decisions and actions.

From 2020 there has been a considerable increase in attention to these metrics from individual and institutional investors.  A series of scandals around organisations that were not as green or ethical as their marketing had made out (https://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/news/2021/03/18/esg-s-dirty-secret/ ) caused real concerns that in many cases the ESG commitments were only “skin deep”.

There is a much greater emphasis on generating metrics that are relevant, timely and verifiable.  In some cases these are linked to the SDG goals above, in others they are more related to risk, including the risks caused by environmental issues.  Clearly different sectors have different priorities, and ESG lacks any single definition of what should be included, which makes direct comparisons difficult, but linking ESG to compliance reporting (including progress on reducing carbon emissions and transition no Net Zero) provides some opportunity for science-based metrics.

Conclusion

Reporting and compliance are significant issues for organisations in every region and sector.  In terms of sustainability GHG emissions reporting (which falls within all three remits as a strategic, compliance and environmental metric) is now mandatory for many organisations and policymakers worldwide are increasing the requirement for its reporting and disclosure.

There is also huge incentive to “get this right” with investment into ESG funds in 2020 exceeding $40 trillion.

There are moves to create standards around disclosure and ESG specifically from organisations like the CDP and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) but for now three significant challenges to true accountability remain.

  • Standards – the lack of international standards and methodology means that “comparability” between reports and disclosures is compromised.  Accountability is a key factor in driving behaviour.
  • Priorities – there is still a priority imbalance between financial and environmental considerations.  As long as GDP and profitability remain the prime metrics (and products are evaluated by price and feature comparison without proper life-cycle analysis and environmental “weighting”) then sustainability will always be a secondary consideration.
  • Data – there is a genuine lack of objective, verifiable, science-based data on which to base reporting.  This is the area where Px3 is focussed based on PhD research overseen by Warwick University and Warwick Business School, we aim to make it simple to measure and reduce GHG emissions from IT.

Overall it’s tempting to dismiss CSR as being too subjective to have any real value, SDGs as being too broad and ESG as too focussed on presenting the best “face” to attract investment. 

The fact is we need a combination of all of these to drive effective change, with CSR providing the “sentiment and purpose”, ESG providing the wider company metrics, alignment with and progress against SDGs offering a global perspective and GHG reports tracking actual progress.

All you need now is the right data and a simple dashboard to display it…..

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Dashboards or Details – Which Work Best for Driving Change?

Sustainability Analytics

If you are responsible for reducing GHG emissions, then IT and travel should definitely be priority areas.  But where to start?  You probably need a high-level view of all the GHG emissions produced by technology and travel at work.  Possibly a simulation to calculate what would happen if you changed devices, adopted new work practices or moved certain workloads to the cloud.  But what about the detail on the individual devices, roles or locations?  In this post we review the issue of “accountability” and how rich decision-making data can help improve sustainability at work.

We all know that how we work (as well as how we live) has a measurable impact on the planet.  We also know that while that impact may be small at an individual level, once it is scaled up (for example by a worldwide working population of 3.3 billion1) then the impact is considerable. 

Of course not everyone in the 3.3 billion workforce uses technology or travels to work, but a very significant proportion do. 

As examples, shipments of new computers (PCs, tablets & laptops) have exceeded 400 million per annum2 every year of the last decade, internet users now exceed 5 billion3 and, despite a 65% reduction due to Covid-19, US commuters still drove 140 billion miles just to get to and from work last year4

There are some positive signs that things are changing.  Here in the UK Covid has had an impact on the way we work and travel.  In the early stages of the 2020 lockdown car trips into UK city centres dropped by over 80% in Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester5 as the “working from home” population went from 1.7 million to 20 million in a matter of a few days 6.

2021, however, is now forecast to see the second highest increase in carbon emissions ever recorded7 as the global economy uses investment in fossil fuels as a way to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Accountability, Compliance and ESG

In April 2021 the UK government announced plans to set arguably the world’s most ambitious climate change targets into law8. This legislation introduces a sixth Carbon Budget and commits to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, in line with the recommendations from the independent Climate Change Committee.

Through its presidency of the COP26 UN climate summit, taking place in Glasgow later this year, the UK is urging countries and organisations around the world to deliver “net zero” globally by 2050 and crucially to commit to more ambitious targets for cutting emissions by 2030.

“The next decade is the most critical period for us to change the perilous course we are currently on. Long term targets must be backed up with credible delivery plans”.

COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma

Most organisations are rightly concerned not just about their sustainability and legislative compliance, but also how it is perceived by customers, staff, investors and stakeholders.  The increasing use of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) scorecards mean that organisations need to collect actual metrics about their actual performance rather than the broader strategic commitments of a CSR (Corporate and Social Responsibility) policy. 

The problem, quite literally, is one of accountability.  How do we count (measure) environmental impacts at work? How do we ensure that the data we have is based on independent, science-based measurements rather than guesses or estimates?  Who is responsible for gathering and presenting the data? How can we then turn it into information that is both compelling and useful enough to drive real and rapid change?

Taking accountability to the next level, while the organisation might have a dashboard of overall emissions and trends, drilling down into the detail is not simple.  What is the impact of specific departments, locations, roles (or even individuals)?  How efficient are the devices and datacentres when compared with “best of breed”?  What has been the impact of reduced travel over the last year and what would it mean if we went back to “normal” ways of working?

This is precisely what Px3 was set up to achieve. Firstly to provide verifiable, independent measurements of the environmental impacts of the information technology we use for work and the travel we undertake to, from and for work. Secondly to model the impact of changes.  Thirdly to visualise that information in ways that decision makes, staff and stakeholders  find easy to understand.

Too Little Detail, Too Many Blind Spots

So how do we balance the need for both headline figures and granular detail for each organisation?  At the top level it’s fairly easy to get meter readings for premises and calculate the carbon footprint of our office space. 

The challenge comes when we want to know which IT devices are actually using that electricity and how efficiently.   What about all of those staff using our IT equipment from home?  And how will our IT and travel policies affect our commitment to and progress towards Net Zero?

Talking to sustainability managers they often state that I.T. is their big blind spot.  They can measure power to the desk, but have no visibility of who or what is consuming it.  Equally when we talk to heads of IT / CIOs, sustainability was not in the top 3 on their checklist when specifying devices and services three years ago, although it increasingly is now. 

Datacentres pose another challenge. On-prem datacentre emissions are recorded as scope 2 (created by energy used in business operations), so there may be some benefit in moving some of the workloads to the cloud. But which provider has real “green” credentials? What will be the actual impact on emissions and reporting?

These questions are all about how organisations go about balancing the need for best-value, performance, security, user experience and sustainability – a complex mix of factors to be considered.

The Answer: Actionable Sustainability Insights

This is where the Px3 sustainability reports come in – providing answers to complex questions through actionable insights into sustainability.   We’ve recently worked with customers ranging from a few hundred up to hundreds of thousands of devices, presenting them with rich, decision-making data, such as:

  • Which makes, models and types of devices are being used?
  • How much GHG emissions are they creating?
  • Who is using devices (e.g. which departments)
  • Where are the emissions hotspots?
  • How much work travel is taking place
  • Why are people travelling as much as they do?
  • What can we do to make a significant difference?

The result is two-fold.  Firstly a simple set of dashboards, reports and easy to understand illustrations which help communicate the results.  Secondly a “drill-down” capability into the data to reveal the complexities and nuances needed to turn policy into action.  “Eye-opening detail” was the response from one of our customers this month.

Can it make a difference?  Our independent research8 overseen by the University of Warwick shows that the right choices can cut energy consumption and GHG emissions by as much as 90%.

If you’re looking to make significant savings, a 90% reduction is a great place to start.

Conclusion

Predictably, the answer to the question posed in the title is that you need both the dashboards and the details to make the right choices and drive effective change.  The good news is that we can help provide you with both. 

Simply fill in our contact form to book a live demonstration of Px3’s sustainability reports, dashboards and modelling tools.

References:

1 ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2020 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_734455.pdf

2 Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/272595/global-shipments-forecast-for-tablets-laptops-and-desktop-pcs/

3 https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

4 KPMG: https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/br/pdf/2020/09/automotives-new-reality.pdf

5 INRIX: https://inrix.com/scorecard/

6 CBI/KPMG: https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/5101/cbi-kpmg-commuting-beyond-the-coronavirus-july-2020-final-1.pdf

7 The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/20/carbon-emissions-to-soar-in-2021-by-second-highest-rate-in-history

8 UK Government: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-enshrines-new-target-in-law-to-slash-emissions-by-78-by-2035

9 Sutton-Parker, J. (2020). ‘Determining end user computing device Scope 2 GHG emissions with accurate use phase energy consumption measurement.’

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Why Measuring Carbon Footprint is Step 1 on the Path to Net Zero for IT

In charge of IT?  Working to KPIs around cost, availability and performance? Chances are someone (it may be your customers, staff, investors or other stakeholders) will shortly be asking you for some new metrics – about your departments Carbon Footprint.

Here’s a starter set of three to benchmark against……

  • What are your total IT GHG emissions for the year?
  • What’s the trend – is it going up, or down?
  • Which of your devices are the most polluting?

And if those are the first set of questions, the next set may be even more of a challenge:

  • Can we generate a heat map for IT emissions across the organisation?
  • How do we benchmark new proposals from suppliers and vendors?
  • What happens to our emissions reporting if we move some workloads from our DCs to the cloud?
  • How do you account for the emissions of staff using your equipment at home?
  • What’s your strategy to get to Net Zero for IT?

We can help. At Px3 Our mission is to help organisations to reduce their carbon footprint.  That’s all we do. 

Working with us you get a detailed, granular and accurate picture of your organisation’s emissions using science-based measurements. 

Crucially for effective planning and decision making we can help you identify the hot-spots and problem areas. Equally importantly we’ll help you define your strategy and prioritise your Net Zero action plan by modelling the potential reductions you could make on your current emissions (and Scope 2 & 3 reporting) by:

  • Swapping some out some of your devices for lower-energy models
  • Moving some workloads to the cloud
  • Changing working patterns and commuting
  • Extending device refresh cycles

If you want to make the analysis easier for your audience to understand, we’ll also give you the figures in graphical form, using simple metrics that are familiar to everyone, like car miles travelled or acres of forest needed to remove the pollution.

You can also be reassured that we are fully independent specialists, using analytical tools and science-based measurements developed during our PhD research with Warwick University and Warwick Business School.

Your journey to Net Zero needs to start soon – so begin with a clear understanding of where you are today and which changes will have the biggest impact.

Want to find out more? – simply fill in our contact form and we’ll arrange a suitable time for an online demonstration of our Net Zero roadmap planning and modelling service.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Are Vampires & Zombies a Genuine Threat to the Planet?

OK – let’s be clear, we’re not talking mythical monsters here, but two largely unseen and often unmeasured consumers of power and resources.  Even if they don’t live up to the ravenous reputations of their movie counterparts, in this post we look at why zombies and vampires are serious considerations for IT sustainability and climate change.

Vampires have been around in film for almost exactly one hundred years (Nosferatu was released in 1922), with the first zombie film (White Zombie) appearing 10 years later.  Yes, no apologies, if I had a mastermind topic it would be early horror films.  But how do these mythical creatures relate to IT and sustainability?  Let’s look at them in turn.

What Exactly are the Vampires Sucking?

A “Vampire device” is one which draws power from the grid even when it is in standby or powered down.  And by device we don’t just mean a computer or datacentre “server”.  Phone chargers, power adapters, battery packs, basically anything that is plugged into sockets may be draining valuable energy.

How big an issue is this? 

Some estimates put power loss to vampire devices as high as 20% of total consumption.  EU legislation (Regulation No 1275/2008) came into force in January 2010 ensuring that electrical products have a standby mode and restricting their power “draw” to 1 watt.  This was subsequently halved to 0.5 Watts in 2013.  The EU estimates that these measures have saved 35.5 TWh per year, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Romania. This has saved EU consumers €25 billion per year and more importantly removed 39 Mt of CO2 emissions.

So is the problem sorted?

Not quite.  The legislation is different for “networked” devices, i.e. those connected by wires or Wi-Fi to a network, including the internet.   These still have to go into standby mode, but can consume significantly higher amounts of energy. Networked devices include computers (tablets, laptops and PCs) televisions and decoders, printers, game consoles and modems.

The scope also includes devices which are connected together, so an external monitor or a printer are networked devices, even if only connected to a device via a cable.

Since January 2017 networked devices in standby mode must not consume more than 3 to 12 Watts depending on the product, reduced from 20 to 80 Watts previously. The upper power range is reserved for devices with “High Network Availability” (HiNA) functionality, typically networking equipment such as routers and switches. 

This legislative decrease is estimated to have saved an additional 36-38 TWh, but the fact is that businesses and homes contain an ever-increasing number of networked  devices which are still consuming significant amounts of power.

What to do about the Vampires?

We need to consider “standby” features (time to enter standby and passive power consumption) as well as “active” power draw when making personal and business purchasing decisions, particularly for our end user computing (PCs, laptops and tablets) and networking devices.

While the legislation sets out the upper limits of what is acceptable, it is the purchaser who determines the direction of travel for manufacturers.

We also need to get in the habit of unplugging those devices that don’t need to be in standby (including chargers and adapters), or else ensuring that they are connected to the mains via “smart” power strips that cut the power completely when not in use.

Powering down devices if they are not going to be used for more a few hours (e.g. overnight) makes good environmental and economic sense – and can help prolong the life of components, improve performance and ensure that system updates are regularly applied.  The boot up time of most devices is now so quick that the inconvenience of lost time is really very minor.

Checking that individual devices have the optimal power settings is also good practice and many infrastructure management tools can provide reports on the power profiles of individual devices to identify and target those with excessive consumption.

Px3 can help through our sustainability reports that identify these issues, profile devices and put their environmental impact into a context and format that people can easily understand.

Killing Zombies for Planet and Productivity

While Vampires are quietly drawing power from the grid in small amounts, zombies are a bit more aggressive.  They are physical or virtual devices which are switched on and consuming energy, but serving no useful purpose and providing no accessible resources. (Note that these are very different from the other type of zombies which are PCs and servers infected with malware used by criminals in spam and denial of service attacks).

How big an issue is this? 

Very significant.  One recent US study indicated that 25% of all physical and 30% of all virtual servers were “comatose” (not used for at least 6 months).  That equates  to over 10 million zombie servers worldwide, drawing 4 Gigawatts of power, wasting enough energy to power over a million homes, with obvious environmental and cost implications.

They are also a security risk, not to mention wasting valuable space, resources and licensing in enterprise data centres.

Even when they have been detected, removal is not as simple as a quick “head-shot”.  Just because a server has had no in-bound or out-bound connections for 11 months does not mean it isn’t used annually for a business-critical task. 

Why Do Zombies Exist?

It’s a simple fact that it is easier to purchase and install something than to manage it over a long period of time.  Servers which are associated with legacy applications or long-forgotten projects can simply become “part of the furniture”.  Normally they are only exposed during a major datacentre refresh or a move to the cloud, when the function of every physical and virtual device is being questioned.

Many older servers are also retained for specific tasks such as back up, for contingency or seasonal, peak workload tasks.

Do Zombies Exist in the Cloud?

Absolutely.  Zombies can exist and consume your resources just as easily in “someone else’s datacentre” as your own.

What to do about the Zombies?

Firstly, put the problem into business context. Remember that these devices, whether virtual or physical, are consuming energy, space and resources such as software licenses.  All of these have a cost to your organisation and the energy consumption in particular has a cost for the planet.

Somewhere within your toolset there should be a way to identify the scale of the problem by using:

  • Cloud workload management software
  • Server Analytics
  • Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools
  • Configuration management database (CMDB)
  • Intelligent Power Distribution Units (PDUs)

Depending where you are on the on-premises / cloud spectrum there should be sufficient information from these sources to profile every server and determine whether it is fulfilling a useful function.  Remember that it as much about identifying connections and user access to data and resources (which may be very light touch) as it is about actual activity.

Zombie hunting is all about finding those resources that are seriously underutilised and either removing them entirely or consolidating them onto more efficient infrastructure, which may well be in the cloud.

When it is time to eradicate the menace, communication and change management processes will be needed to avoid business disruption and recriminations.

This is where Px3 can assist.  Putting your clean-up operation into your sustainability project means this is not just an IT housekeeping project, it’s also a corporate and environmental one.

Conclusion

While the names are the stuff of legend, the issues are ones of practicality.  We need to be more efficient and careful with our resources in order to improve the sustainability of IT.

That means making sustainability part of our purchasing decisions, operational and management practices and housekeeping.

The fact that these changes also typically reduce costs and improve efficiency means that there should be little resistance to an initiative from IT that benefits Planet, People and Productivity.

Px3 includes awareness workshops and sustainability webinars in our client engagement options.

Want to find out more? – join us for our upcoming webinar with Citrix, Royal Borough of Kingston & Sutton and Google on the 10th Feb – register here

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

What’s the Plan for Net Zero in 2050?

The UK’s Climate Change Committee has issued advice on the changes needed to meet the government’s 2050 target of reducing net carbon emissions to zero – but what does that mean for individuals and organisations?

Changes for the Citizen

In it’s Sixth Carbon Budget Report “The UK’s Path to Net Zero” the Climate Change Committee (CCC) identified some significant changes that all of us are likely to have to make if we want to live in a carbon neutral country. The committee identified that more than 50% of the planned emissions savings involve people and the choices they make.

Travel will become low-carbon by phasing out the internal combustion engine, at least in new cars and vans by the early 2030s. The amount we will fly remains contentious, particularly as there are no expectations in the report of reaching zero emissions for aviation by 2050.

Home Energy will be partly tackled by increasingly efficient devices, but we will need to shift away from natural gas to electricity and heat pumps for heating, a move that will require a massive investment (around £10k per older household) in much needed improvements in home insulation.

Diet and Food were always going to be controversial areas. The CCC has suggested a 20% cut in the consumption of red meat and dairy produce by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2050. It has also suggested a cut of 50% in food waste could be achieved.

Whether it’s flying less (if at all), changing our vehicles (new registrations this year are expected to be 10% electric including hybrid), wasting less or changing our diets, our personal journeys towards 2050 and Net-Zero have already started and are going to accelerate.

Changes for Organisations

Surface travel, buildings and energy supply have a significant share of of UK emissions (22%, 17% and 10% respectively). All private, public and third sector organisations will need to consider how emissions in these areas can be measured and reduced.

For most organisations reporting on energy consumption and progress on emissions reduction is now mandatory across Scope 1 (Direct emissions on site such as gas boilers and fleet vehicles), Scope 2 (Indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used) and Scope 3 (Indirect emissions from activities such as business travel and supply chain).

There are positive signs. We’ve seen from recent news how the impacts of Covid-19 have led to dramatic falls in emissions worldwide, but most significantly in the UK and France, where annual emissions are down 13% and 15% respectively. While some of this can be attributed to shut-down of industry, reductions in travel and work-based travel in particular would seem to be a major cause of the UK reduction.

Continuing the trend towards more flexible working arrangements is critical to meeting our 2050 targets as carefully consider how to balance the new world of work between pre and post Covid-19 worlds. This clearly has implications for the size and configuration of offices, as the use of these shifts from “every day” to “as required”. It’s likely that we will see greater emphasis on shared spaces, hot-desking and collaboration spaces and the technology to support this flexibility both in and away from the office becomes essential.

Despite the increasing use of sustainable energy we still need to consider the energy used by our works devices and datacentres. While we transition from our current mix to one largely free of fossil fuels (the CCC plan assumes fossil fuel supply emissions to be reduced by 75% by 2035 from 2018 levels) we will still be generating energy from fossil fuel for the foreseeable future.

That means we need to take steps to reduce power consumption wherever possible – with the added benefit of cost savings.

It’s these areas where Px3 focusses assessments – to measure the carbon footprint of ways of working, devices and datacentres and provide guidance on what can be changed, and what the benefits would be.

Conclusion

The CCC considered three likely scenarios: Headwinds (limited societal/behavioural change and innovation), Widespread Engagement (People and businesses are willing to make more changes to their behaviour, reducing the demand for the most high-carbon activities) and Widespread Innovation (Greater success in
reducing costs of low-carbon technologies, allowing more widespread electrification and a more resource and energy-efficient economy).

For those of us who can’t directly drive the innovation agenda, we need to focus on shifting from Headwinds to Widespread Engagement and making best use of resources. With the right data we can drive informed choices and all play our part in meeting these important and ambitious targets.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

And the “Word of the Year” for 2021 is….

Words are important indicators of what we are thinking and how we are feeling.  Recent Oxford English Dictionary “words of the year” suggest a growing public anxiety about the environment and the need for change, but do we need to change our way of thinking to actually drive different outcomes?

2020: Too Complex for a Single Word

In November 2020 the Oxford English Dictionary officially gave up on having just one “Word of the Year“, citing the unprecedented changes in attitudes and circumstances. Read more here

With some words (notably “pandemic”) increasing in usage by more than 57,000% over previous years you could be forgiven for hoping that 2021 might lead us into calmer waters.  That would be a mistake. There are significant trends in those lists of words that have not gone away.

As an example, the 2019 OED word of the year was “climate-change”.  In 2018 it was “toxic”.  “Carbon-neutral” and “carbon-footprint” featured in 2007 (UK) and 2006 (US) respectively.  In fact after the seemingly trivial early years commencing in 2004 with “chav”, followed by “sudoku” and “bovvered”, words relating to the environment, government, protest, society and economics have dominated the list.

What’s notable though is that the words typically relate to issues, not solutions.  They are what concerns us, not what we are doing about it.

Customer-Led Thinking

Our response to these issues and concerns can be orthodox (assume that a combination of policy, economics, society and science will sort everything out) or heterodox (decide that some of those institutions are built on flawed, self-interested or even destructive principals, so require more radical change and re-alignment).  

This latter mode is associated with disruptive economic theories and their implications for ecology and society, which will be covered in later blogs, but for now let’s consider where heterodox thinking might take us, starting with some assumptions:

  1. Changing individual behaviour is critical to becoming more sustainable – in particular our direct and indirect consumption of raw materials and our attitude to waste.
  2. People are social and their behaviour, driven by a complex interaction of things that change rapidly (influences and opinions) and those that change slowly if at all (habits, culture, traditions and beliefs), is not entirely rational or predictable.
  3. Socio-economic factors which affect behaviour are complex, evolving and heavily influenced by policy, media and by highly visible brands or individuals perceived to have particular knowledge or resonance.
  4. Our current focus on having “more”, “new”, “latest” and “best” is accelerating already unsustainable resource use, emissions and e-waste to landfill

While orthodox thinking on sustainability might lead us towards socio-economic factors (such as taxation or celebrity green ambassadors) to drive change, heterodox thinking suggests that this will be ineffective because of embedded self-interests in the systems. Instead it inclines us towards giving the individual direct feedback on their personal impact and encouraging “flood up” from the consumer rather than “trickle down” from the influencer.

Breaking the Habit

It’s not by chance that businesses often refer to the public as either “customers” (those who purchase from habit, i.e. by custom) or as “consumers”.

If we can build on the undoubted concern with a very real illustration of what an individual’s footprint is like, how it can be reduced and what it means for the planet  we can begin to drive more positive engagement at the heart of the problem – the person making the decision on whether and what to buy.

This is exactly the model we use at Px3 with our carbon footprint assessments for organisations; measure, inform through illustration, then use real, contextualised information to identify and encourage change.

And crucially when people’s decisions change, then their purchasing and voting powers flow upwards to influence those who govern them, supply them and market to them.  If we increase knowledge and accountability we cut through the greenwash and self-interest to something that needs to be proved in order to be true. And the media have become increasingly willing to expose forces that seek to undermine change in their own self interest, such as the recent dubiously-sourced report on electric vehicles.

Reducing raw materials use, packaging, distribution and waste, while also increasing longevity, options for repair, upgrade and re-purposing should all become the default, simply because an informed buyer (whether personal or corporate procurement) will demand those as a minimum.

Conclusion

In 2021 we need alternative, heterodox thinking to turn the existing influencer model on its head. 

No longer should brands determine what is on-trend and encourage us to want ever increasing output through endorsement and advertising.  Instead an increasingly sceptical public should be encouraged to ask why something needs to be replaced rather than repaired and to hold those disposable elements of the market in contempt as no longer fit for purpose.

Maybe “heterodox” is unlikely to top the list in 2021, but if we can reverse the influence then the compound word of the year could be “customer-led”.

And even if we can’t achieve that milestone, if you want to be a leading brand in 2021, your green credentials had better stand up to external audit because there’s going to be a lot more questions and scrutiny from an increasingly sceptical public.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

“They” is the Problem – The Psychology of Climate Change

While climate change is often presented as a scientific, political or even economic issue, there are some elements of it that are mostly about people.  Indeed the middle “P” of Px3 (Planet, People & Productivity) is there for precisely this reason.  If we want to make positive changes we need to consider the factors that drive change or cause inertia.

In this post I want to consider three aspects of human “cognitive” and sociological behaviour that go some way to explain how we got ourselves into this situation and what we need to change to resolve it.  I’ve presented these as simple statements, all open to challenge and debate, which I believe underlie our current threat to the environment.

Out / In Grouping – We tend to feel less positively about people when we assign them groups to which we don’t belong and vice versa (also known as “othering”)

Dissonance / Consonance – We are able to hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time, but suffer some mental discomfort as a result and may make choices that seem illogical to ease this feeling

External / Internal Attribution – We vary in our perception of how much each of us is actually in control and therefore able to achieve or affect particular outcomes

The Issue

The Venn diagram below shows the interactions of the negative aspects of the three behaviours.  At this end of the spectrum we hold an expectation that someone else (politicians or scientists) will be responsible for resolving all the problems, that someone else (other nations or cultures) is causing them and that despite our concerns we have no actual role to play or potential to change the situation.

James Lovelock in his excellent 2019 work Novacene describes humans as “fissiparous”, meaning prone to dividing, fracturing and splitting apart.  For me this is the corner stone of the problem.  If I perceive that They are not changing, then neither will I.  If They have the authority and power when I do not, then clearly They have the responsibility for change.  And why should I be inconvenienced or go without when They are not and do not.  

It doesn’t take much to bring out this aspect of our natures.  We naturally identify as a group by identifying another group who are not like us or we imagine oppose or threaten us.  We see this demonstrated in distrust of scientists and politicians, often aggravated by social media that thrives on instant gratification and closed, self-reinforcing feedback loops.

This “othering” is particularly damaging as it allows us to think and behave in ways which otherwise we and our society would consider totally unacceptable.  From a climate change perspective this is highly concerning.  If we cannot have a truly common cause because THEY are part of it, or are actively working against it, we will not succeed.  Like the pandemic, the problem is global and unless the cure is global, it will not go away.

At best this promotes inertia and inactivity.  As climate related stress increases, however, we are likely to see this “othering” and dissociation leading to negative, even aggressive behaviours.  At the same time the increasing dissonance between our concern for the environment and our unwillingness to change key aspects of our own behaviour has serious impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

Like many psychological and societal issues we find source of the problems lie in learned behaviour, reinforcement and short-term gratification.  Our immediate pleasure from buying exceeds our guilt at both the cost and the environmental impacts of manufacture, distribution, use and disposal, mostly because they are never quantified.

The Resolution

If we were continually advised of these facts, updated on options and their impact and guided to make better choices, our position on these key metrics is more likely to change.  There are moves to do this around ethical shopping sites and initiatives to develop lower-impact and more circular economies which provide us with not just more information and feedback but also with practical ways to “green” our behaviours.

So if we are going to follow a more sustainable path then we need regular information and positive responses, either from others or ourselves, in order to persevere.  We need sufficient stimulus to overcome the inertia, followed by continual reinforcement to maintain the behaviours.

There are possibilities to expose some of the hidden environmental costs of our purchasing and activities through new technology such as blockchain that is able to track the impact of every element of a product or service through its digital footprint, but this has yet to become established in mainstream transactions.

While this article is largely about the individual, this is exactly the approach we at Px3 take to driving change at a corporate level.  Only by measuring and visualising the actual carbon footprint of various areas and activities can we inform and make positive adjustments. While this is relatively easy to do at a building or site level, it’s much harder to analyse at a granular level, particularly when staff are mobile and the workforce is dispersed.

Critical to this is Agency, where the individual feels empowered to drive change not just at in their own behaviour but in a wider context through challenge, advocacy, social and political engagement.

The second Venn diagram presents the situation where the individual accepts responsibility for their own actions and for participation in the wider change process.  Removing the “THEY” element allows not only for the individual to become an agent of their own changes, it encourages active participation in the wider “WE”.

This is perhaps best illustrated by a typical customer engagement in which we measure the Scope 2 and 3 emissions associated with an IT service.  This involves looking at the clients embodied carbon of their existing devices, the power consumed in their day to day operation, their eventual disposal and the operation of their cloud or on-premises data centres.

After making recommendations around emissions reduction we are left with a “balance” that needs to be offset.  It’s no surprise that the most effective offsetting is in protecting and replanting in the most environmentally sensitive areas like the Amazon, but equally clients want to see action and impacts closer to home.  We share a planet, and we also share a country, a region and even a neighbourhood. Change is best delivered and accelerated by building resonance (making things matter) and developing consonance (common voice and purpose).

Balancing global and local is critical to motivating change and encouraging positive activities.  The more we can reduce the concept of THEY and encourage the positivity of WE, the better.   The more we can use science-based measurements to inform and encourage, the better able we are to encourage agency and common purpose, and thereby achieve positive outcomes.

Conclusion

 One thing that the study of psychology tells us is that when we change our thoughts and attitudes we change our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.  While we are certainly capable of being divisive and destructive we are also equally capable of being inclusive and creative.

We need to recognise and reject our temptations to identify THEY and encourage the I and WE.  Through the current pandemic we have the greatest shock to the system and opportunity to reset things for the better in the last half century. Arming ourselves with real data and encouraging positive change in every aspect of our work and personal lives has to be the answer.

How we respond to the challenge of defining our post-Covid-19 world in a more sustainable and inclusive manner will literally define our place in history and how WE are judged by future generations.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk